Jury duty: city councillors should be exempt
By Marcy Segal
I have always appreciated that jury duty can be quite disruptive to an individual’s personal and professional life. I usually avoid choosing those that are self-employed, because I recognize that they will suffer financial hardship. Stay-at-home mothers with young children are to be avoided, because of their vital role in the home.
What I find particularly offensive is when potential jurors invent fictitious reasons to be excused from such an important part of the judicial system.
So, Adam Vaughan chimed in this week that municipal councillors should also be exempt. Read Toronto Sun Story
My initial reaction was, “C’mon, you’ve got to be kidding.” Soon enough we will have trouble even gathering a jury panel. But, as a criminal lawyer, we are trained to not accept anything at face value: to question why. We are firm believers that there are at least two sides to every story. I often feel there are three sides: that the truth lies somewhere between each version.
So, I thought, why not go to the source? Before jumping to any conclusions, give a councillor a call. My colleague suggested I telephone Mayor Rob Ford. She heard he always answers his phone. No such luck. I then remembered that an old camp acquaintance was now a city councilor, James Pasternak. I was successful reaching him and he was quite amenable to speaking to me about this issue and some other issues that may become the subject of an article in the future.
James Pasternak was very persuasive. He was informative and forthright and balanced in his opinion on the subject. He spoke about the need that a jury be as impartial as humanly possible and that elected councillors should not be sitting as judges where police officers, who are employees of the city, are testifying. He makes a good point. It is not only fairness that surrounds our system, the appearance of justice.
I further probed him on what would occur when a councillor was absent during meetings because he/she was sitting on a jury. Essentially, the councillor would have to rely upon written submissions, which, quite frankly, is a far cry away from sitting there while other councillors voice their opinion. The proceedings would not cease. Another reason why councillors should be exempt. They are there to represent the interests of its citizens.
What I found most compelling about his opinion is that it did not have a hint of cynicism of the judicial system or of the jury process. On the contrary. He was able to articulate the importance of their work. All meetings are set well in advance: all agendas are planned beforehand. This organization is military-like, in the sense that changes cannot be made without going through all the channels. So, disrupting the flow could have a real negative impact on this city and its citizens of particular wards.
MPPs are exempt; so should city councillors. What James Pasternak did was communicate it in a logical, probative and rational way. How it was presented in the press gave me a negative impression, one that has been distilled by actually going to the city and doing a little of my own investigative work.
I encourage anyone to call their councillor if they have questions; they are approachable. And I would hope that the government exempts councillors in the future.